R.I. educators, administrators offer suggestions on ‘Building a Better Teacher'

“Passionless” teachers should find another career, according to David Upegui, a science teacher at Central Falls High School.

His remark came at the Publick Occurrences forum “Building a Better Teacher for Rhode Island,” held in the Nazarian Center’s Sapinsley Hall on Sept. 12. It was the first in a series of three fall events sponsored by Rhode Island College, The Providence Journal and Leadership Rhode Island.

Alexander "Sasha" Sidorkin speaks at the forum, 'Building a Better Teacher for Rhode Island.'
RIC President Nancy Carriuolo and Mike Ritz, executive director of Leadership Rhode Island, provided opening statements at the event, which featured nine local education professionals who addressed the topics of teachers as heroes, teacher evaluation and teacher preparation.

“Super challenges make superheroes,” Upegui said, later adding, “We cannot stand for mediocrity.”

Thomas Barbieri, principal of Bain Middle School in Cranston, said not every teacher must be a hero, but that all need to be effective. He also noted that the teaching profession grows more complicated every year and that school systems need extensive support.

Alexander “Sasha” Sidorkin, dean of RIC’s Feinstein School of Education and Human Development, said there are about 4 million teachers in the U.S., and not everyone can be a hero. “It’s about, training, it’s about support, it’s about morale,” he said.

Sidorkin also advocated for more robust afterschool programs.

Discussing teacher evaluation. Colleen Callahan, director of the Rhode Island Federation of Teachers and Health Professionals said, “Teachers want to be held accountable for their professional practice.”

Deborah Gist, K-12 Rhode Island education commissioner, said that an educator evaluation system is being put into place in the state. She said the evaluations would extend to administrators as well, and that the primary purpose of the evaluation system overall is professional development.

On the subject of teacher preparation, David Byrd, director of the School of Education at the University of Rhode Island, said the factors most predictive of success for teachers is the ability to plan, to teach and to assess student learning.

Panelists Colleen Callahan, Deborah Gist and Diane Tourangeau participate in the forum.
Larry Purtill, president of the National Education Associate Rhode Island, said he believed that teacher should complete a five-year program to their master’s degree and be student teacher for a full year before becoming a teacher.

Panelists also looked at other issues during the forum. When asked if teachers in the classroom can make up for poverty at home, Gist said that “great teachers and great school environments can help students,” but “a teacher who is ineffective is the worst thing for students who are already behind.”

She also said there was a need in Rhode Island for all school systems to have a full day of kindergarten. She noted that before she came to the state, she had thought of half-day kindergarten as being a relic of the past.

Diane Tourangeau, a teacher at Wakefield Hills Elementary School in West Warwick, said that early childhood education is “paramount.”

Teacher preparation was also addressed by Heather Tow-Yick, executive director of Teach for America Rhode Island, which recruits recent college grads to teach for two years in urban and rural public schools.

The audience filled Sapinsley Hall for the Sept. 12 panel discussion.
The forum, which as moderated by Karen Bordeleau, deputy executive editor of The Providence Journal, also included questions from Journal education writers Linda Borg, Jennifer Jordan and Gina Macris, as well as from the audience.

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Two more Publick Occurrences forums will be held this fall: “The Pension Puzzle: What Can We Afford?” on Oct. 3, and “War On Terror: Rhode Island’s Returning Wounded Vets,” on Nov. 7, both to be held in Sapinsley Hall from 6-8 p.m.

Registration is required for the forums and seats will be reserved on a first come, first serve basis. To register for the Oct. 3 event, visit http://.oct2011publickoccurrences.eventbrite.com or call (401) 273-1574.